Oregon Wine Country: A Sustainable Travel Guide
Ah, Oregon. You're a beauty. After spending a day in hip Portland, I took a short road-trip to the Willamette Valley of Oregon to explore the famous wine country. Oregon wine country had been on my bucket list since visiting Tuscany last summer. Tuscany was my first trip to a wine country and I completely fell in love. Willamette Valley was no different. The lush green hills, a winery at every turn, and the friendliest (and most knowledgable) people I've ever met.
The Willamette Valley is a short hour drive from Portland, making it a perfect day or weekend trip. We spent two full days there and that was the perfect amount of time for us to get a taste of the famous wines that come from the region and have time to relax and enjoy the scenery as well.
I was inspired to take this trip after stumbling upon the Plug and Pinot Oregon Wine Country EV Byway. The Plug and Pinot trail is a project funded by the Oregon Forever Fund which led to the installation of electric car chargers at wineries in the Willamette Valley. Charge your car while you are drinking wine (responsibly), such a cool concept, right? This provides an incentive for those with electric vehicles to visit wineries that are committed to sustainability and environmental initiatives.
Where to Drink
Oregon Wine Country was what brought me to the Willamette Valley in the first place. The rolling hills, lush greenery, and fabulous wine sums up our two days there. In addition to drinking lots and lots of wine, I had the opportunity to learn about the winemaking process and how it can be made more sustainable. A common theme was bio-dynamic farming. Prior to this weekend I had only ever heard of bio-dynamic farming by name and had no idea of the theory and concept. Bio-dynamic farming is a holistic and sustainable approach to farming to optimize the health of the land. Wineries can choose whether to become certified in bio-dynamic farming or practice it without the certification. Either way, it causes less hard to the land and makes for more sustainable wine production.
While in the Valley, I met some of the most inspiring, dedicated, and intelligent wine makers working hard to make their wineries more sustainable. In addition to bio-dynamic farming, many of the wineries we visited had an herb and vegetable garden to compliment their land. The produce was used on-site for food service and the herbs were used in the process of bio-dynamic farming. Business practices were also made more sustainable. Packaging, shipping, and water usage are all important aspects of sustainability and the wineries I met with take these considerations into account. REX HILL and Winderlea are both B Corp Certified. Fun Fact: REX HILL was actually the first winery to be certified in the whole world. Pretty impressive stuff!
The valley is known for Pinot Noir, which just so happens to be my favorite type of red wine. I also had some fabulous Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, and Riesling. Read on to hear about the sustainable wineries I visited while in Oregon and my favorite wines from each place.
Brooks is a family-owned and operated winery located in the heart of Willamette Valley. The winery produces Pinot Noir and Riesling. The 20-acre land is farmed bio-dynamically and boasts a spectacular view. My favorite wines from Brooks were the 2015 Janus Pinot Noir, 2015 Rastaban Pinot Noir, and 2016 Ara Riesling. Food and wine pairing dinners are scheduled often and a full menu is available during tasting room hours. Fresh herbs and produce from the on-site garden are used in the kitchen. Tasting Room Hours: 11-5 Daily.
Rex Hill was the first certified B Corp winery in the world. They were the trailblazers for other Willamette Valley wineries to follow suit. As one of the largest producers of wine in the Valley they have a large selection of red and white wines they produce. My favorite wines from REX HILL are the 2015 REX HILL Willamette Valley Pinot Noir and 2016 REX HILL Willamette Valley Seven Soils Chardonnay. The tasting room is the location of a former fruit and nut drying facility which adds a wealth of character to the tasting experience. I also enjoyed their Essence table which includes a variety of different smells commonly found in wine. The winery grounds are impeccably manicured and the perfect setting for an afternoon wine tasting. Tasting Room Hours: 10-5 Daily.
I had the pleasure to meet owners Bill Sweat and Donna Morris who opened Winderlea in 2006. The vineyard is farmed bio-dynamically and sustainably. The winery produces Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, and Rosé. I don’t like choosing favorites but this winery was amazing, and Bill and Donna were incredible gracious hosts. All of the wines I tried at Winderlea were fabulous. Everything from the tasting room to business practices are sustainable at Winderlea. The tasting room was designed by a sustainable architect, packaging is made out of ethically sourced materials, and the company is B Corp certified. The tasting room sits on the vineyard acreage overlooking the rolling land of Dundee Hills. It’s a pretty spectacular view, even on those overcast days. My favorite wines from Winderlea are the 2014 Winderlea Vineyard Pinot Noir, 2016 Meredith Mitchell Pinot Blanc, and 2014 Dundee Hills Vineyard Pinot Noir. Tasting Room Hours: 10-4 Monday-Friday; By Appointment on Weekends.
Another family-owned and -operated winery located just 35 miles from Portland. The Pinot Noirs are rich and divine. We had a wonderful tasting room guide who shared a wealth of information about soil types in the Willamette Valley. I wish I had retained all of the information to share with you. But I can tell you this… soil type really matters in what type of wine is produces. That's really what makes Willamette Valley so special. It has different regions based on the different soil contents of the area (some are volcanic while others are marine sedimentary), and the regions even get differing amounts of heat and precipitation. Some wines are blended from vineyards across the regions to give you a taste of Willamette Valley, while others are limited to just the grapes grown locally to give you a more precise and distinct taste of that region. It's fascinating to learn about everything that goes into wine making, so make sure to ask all about it while you are enjoying your tasting! Tasting Room Hours: 10-5 Daily.
I was in the Willamette Valley for two days and I assure you those two days were full of responsible wine drinking. However, two days in not nearly enough to visit all the wineries I wanted in the Valley. A number of other wineries participate in the EV Byway program and farm bio-dynamically. Visit The Oregon Wine Country EV Byway for more information.
One of the best parts of my job is getting to meet wonderful people from all walks of life and hear their stories and intentions when it comes to sustainability and eco-friendly practices. I learned so much during my time in the Willamette Valley and I am excited to share that knowledge with you. A special thank you to Brooks Wine, Winderlea, and ReachNow for your support.
How to Get Around
Don't own an electric vehicle? No problem! ReachNow, a car-sharing app, allows customers to rent BMW i3s at an affordable rate and take them to the Willamette Valley. The cars are conveniently placed around Portland for easy and quick access to an electric vehicle anytime day or night. The BMW's i3 is a powerful, electric vehicle. It was the perfect way to travel from Portland to Willamette Valley wineries. We chose to visit wineries that offered free charging to ensure our car stayed charged. It was so easy to plug it in and then go inside for a tasting. Upon returning to the car, it was charged and we were on our way.
A big thank you to ReachNow for allowing us to whip around in a stylish i3 for the weekend.
I highly recommend taking a trip to Portland and the Willamette Valley to explore the beautiful wine country. David and I had a wonderful time and are already planning to return.